The Government’s Rwanda plan is not about Rwanda or about ‘solving’ the issue of small boat crossings, says Reverend Joe Haward

The Government’s scheme to send some people seeking asylum to Rwanda has rightly led to an outcry from a variety of voices. 

Politicians, writers and commentators have spoken out in horror, while more than 160 charities and campaign groups have denounced the plan as “cruel and immoral”. Muslim cleric Imam Qari Asim said it “challenges our human conscience” and Prince Charles is reported to have commented privately that the policy is “appalling”.

Not only that, but the entire senior leadership of the Church of England have written a letter, published in The Times, saying that “this immoral policy shames Britain”.

The letter makes the point that those seeking asylum in the UK are the “people Jesus had in mind as he said when we offer hospitality to a stranger, we do it for him”. In other words, in the face of the most vulnerable people, we see ourselves – indeed all of humanity reflected back. Who is our neighbour? The person seeking asylum. 

These ethical and moral attacks are not the only criticisms levelled at the Government’s plans. The Refugee Council has highlighted that 75% of asylum applications in the UK result in asylum being granted or humanitarian protection. Therefore, the majority of people coming to this country are fleeing war, bloodshed and persecution – directly contradicting the Government’s rhetoric that the majority of people crossing the English Channel in small boats are “economic migrants”.

Questions also remain as to the UK’s obligation and ability to protect the human rights of those sent to Rwanda, with little detail as to how the Home Office will ensure the ongoing safety of those people relocated. Neither has the cost to the taxpayer been adequately justified, with the initial £120 million set aside seemingly well short of what would be needed to deport “tens of thousands” of asylum seekers.  

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There is little doubt that this policy will cause further suffering to the lives of already traumatised people seeking refuge in the UK. Rather than “putting evil people smugglers out of business”, as the Home Secretary has claimed, it will punish the victims.

Yet, despite such widespread criticism, Boris Johnson has said that the Government is not going to be “deterred or abashed”. The Foreign Secretary said the first plane leaving for Rwanda would “establish the principle”, even if very few people are on-board. And, in her announcement of the plan in April, Priti Patel insisted that control of national borders was “fundamental to national sovereignty”.

Whatever the Government claims, the Rwanda Plan has nothing to do with helping the most vulnerable and everything to do with political and ideological fulfilment. It reveals the authoritarian racism of this Government.


Divide and Conquer

Ideas that demonise and exclude others ring powerfully in the ears of those who believe identity and nation are being attacked, especially during national economic struggles.

After Hitler published his ideas around racial struggle, the belief that nation belonged to the triumphant races, with mercy a violation of the order of things – including the belief that the weak must not be allowed to reproduce – led to Europeans killing Jews who could not recite the Lord’s Prayer.

When, during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and declared that he would have “Mexico pay” for a wall stretching 1,000 miles, his goal was never a practical, “impenetrable” wall but to stoke the fires of racism.

Those fires actively burned across the US throughout his presidency, supported by right-wing groups, including evangelical Christians. Indeed, during his unsuccessful re-election campaign, Trump repeatedly used the word “invasion” in Facebook ads to describe immigration.

Trump’s wall, like the Government’s Rwanda plan, is not about pragmatic policy. Rather, both serve as the means through which racist policy, conditions and culture can be furthered for populist gain.

The goal is not to find humane and ethical ways to support people seeking asylum, but to punish the most vulnerable quite simply because of who they are.

The Rwanda plan is not about Rwanda – or about ‘solving’ the issue of small boat crossings – but creating division and hostilities within the UK that can be used to oil the wheels of ever-more authoritarian laws. 

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There have been a variety of examples of the use of deportation as punishment. 

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, the British penal system sentenced those found guilty of a crime to transportation, sending women and men to America or Australia. The Nazis’ Madagascar Plan – to relocate Jewish people on the island – was designed for the pursuit of Jewish destruction. Between 1929 and 1936, Herbert Hoover’s administration, through unconstitutional raids, forcibly deported an estimated 1.8 million people from America.

The ‘othering’ of fellow human beings to protect the ‘rights’ of others has a long and bloodied history.

Boris Johnson’s Government revels in this ‘othering’; feeding the worst in us and creating Trumpian-Johnsonian disciples – in the Conservative Party, the media and the public. I can imagine a famous Jewish carpenter calling seven woes down upon these charlatans who speak of justice, but are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. 

Reverend Joe Haward is a community and business chaplain

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